Posted by chicagomedia.org on June 14, 2009 at 10:55:51:
In Reply to: FBI targets Webio founder posted by chicagomedia.org on June 13, 2009 at 19:57:21:
FBI probe focuses on North sponsor
SPORTS-TALK RIFT | Feds search firm owned by broadcaster's estranged partner
June 14, 2009
BY MARK J. KONKOL | Sun-Times Staff Reporter
A rift between flamboyant Chicago sports commentator Mike North and his estranged business partner, David Hernandez, took a turn Saturday when the FBI confirmed it's investigating a Hernandez company.
The firm, NextStep Medical Staffing, is the main sponsor of North's morning talk show on Comcast SportsNet.
On Friday, federal agents executed a search warrant on the offices of NextStep at 225 W. Washington as part of an ongoing federal probe, FBI spokesman Ross Rice said Saturday.
A source close to NextStep said the Securities and Exchange Commission also is investigating the company. An SEC investigator contacted by the Chicago Sun-Times on Saturday would neither confirm nor deny the existence of a probe.
Hernandez's Spectrum Entertainment Group owns a majority stake in the sports talk Web site Chicago Sports Webio (www.ChicagoSportsWebio.com), which North helped found last year.
In recent weeks, the Internet-based radio station has bounced paychecks to staff. On Friday, Hernandez fired North as senior vice president. North's wife, Be-Be, the company's chief operating officer, and general sales manager Jeff Schwartz were also fired.
Hernandez denied being the target of any investigation. He confirmed the FBI subpoenaed company records, which he turned over to investigators.
"That happens once a week in Chicago," Hernandez said. "I welcome the federal government investigation and will work with them. . . . We know where it is going to lead."
North dismissed as nonsense Hernandez's take on the warrant.
"The guy is delusional," North said.
North's attorney, Steve Harris, said federal investigators told him North is not "a suspect or a target" of their investigation. The FBI has also asked to question North later this week.
On Friday night, North invited his Chicago Sports Webio co-workers -- including veteran sportscaster Chet Coppock and midday host Jonathan Hood -- to his house, where he gave them checks from his personal bank account to help make up for their lost wages.
"They're all great friends of mine," he said. "We gave them money so they can survive right now despite this [guy]."
North's show "Monsters in the Morning," with Dan Jiggetts and Jen Patterson, airs from 6 to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday. A Comcast SportsNet spokesman said the show is still scheduled to air -- with North -- in its normal slot Monday. A special prime-time edition of the show is also scheduled for Monday night in advance of the White Sox-Cubs series.
The spokesman would not comment on whether the show will continue to be sponsored by NextStep Medical Staffing, which has paid for it until mid-July.
But Hernandez claims he was told by Comcast officials that North would be pulled from the program.
"Comcast knows we are in a partnership that's locked in legally until July 12," Hernandez said. "If Mike was no longer [on the show], the partnership will continue. If he is there, that will be a problem."
Chicago Sports Webio isn't the only Hernandez business that has had problems making payments recently. The source associated with the company said investors haven't received expected dividends in months.
North, who writes a weekly sports column for the Sun-Times, said he hopes to get control of Chicago Sports Webio, which was his idea. But Hernandez said North "doesn't have a penny invested" in the company.
"We allowed Mike to be the face, but he was a simple employee," Hernandez said. "Unless he can come up with several million dollars, his comments about taking over are comical."
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